WHEELING - What you saw out of the Greenville Road Warriors on Saturday night was an act of desperation.
''We were on the brink of elimination,'' Greenville coach Dean Stork said. ''It was do-or-die. The guys worked hard.''
From the start.
The Warriors scored three goals in the game's first 10 minutes, all by capitalizing on rather easy looks after forcing one Wheeling turnover after another.
''I thought we did a good job of making sure pucks were deep and not getting caught,'' Stork added.
Indeed. For a while, it looked like each of the Greenville players had two sticks, and the Nailers were issued toothbrushes.
''We shot ourselves in the foot,'' Wheeling coach Stan Drulia said. ''We gave up one in the first minute and a half. And then we went down 5-on-3 and they scored right away. They were good. And we were not good. And the combination is what it is - a 5-1 result. We have to forget this one quickly, get on the bus (tonight) and go down there and win a hockey game.''
The turnovers were bad. And costly. But they weren't the most damning thing in Drulia's eyes. He had a team that is a victory away from winning an ECHL's Eastern Conference semifinals series. And then this:
''We weren't ready to play,'' he said. ''We had a couple of guys that really weren't ready to play.''
And this: ''They wanted the game more than we did. We weren't desperate enough. You have to match the desperate play in them, and we didn't match it at all.''
Greenville scored all five of its goals in the game's first 29:17, effectively putting the game away before the rules say it was even half over. That's the kind of thing that backs Drulia's words.
But you can talk about Wheeling's shortcomings during this game all day if you want. This was about a Greenville team that entered the playoffs as the top seed simply not wanting to pack things up for the summer.
''Either we keep playing or we go home,'' Stork said. ''It's not tough to figure it out.''
So the Road Warriors skated a little faster, played a little smarter, and extended the sticks a little farther, continually disrupting everything the Nailers were trying to do while controlling the puck in Wheeling's end for much of the night.
Drulia is hoping that opened some eyes. His guys, with a chance to close things out, should have been one playing that way.
''Maybe our guys were a little bit overconfident,'' he said. ''Sometimes a slap in the face is tough, but we have to forget about it quickly. Hopefully we'll learn from it. The fourth game is always the toughest one to get. We have to go down there and compete for one.''
This series isn't over yet. And the Nailers are still in control, though they'll have to win one on the road to advance to the conference finals, something they've been quite good at thus far in the playoffs as their 3-0-1 record away from WesBanco suggests.
The Road Warriors have home-ice advantage the rest of the way. That means a little, but not a lot, to Stork.
''That's a very good hockey club over there,'' Stork said. ''Wheeling's tough. They've got a lot of speed. They've got good goaltending. Stan's a heckuva coach. And we've still got a long road ahead of us.
''We've still got some things to work on.''
Obviously, so do the Nailers.
''When the puck drops,'' Drulia said, ''you have to be ready.''
There's a great place to start.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org